Opinion: European connection

Air Europa’s UK&I director Colin Stewart argues that businesses can benefit from flying indirect to long-haul destinations

In an ideal world we’d all take long-haul direct flights and travel business class – if not first – in the newest state-of-the-art, environmentally friendly aircraft.

But business travel is more complex; businesses are shifting outside the capitals, travel budgets are tightening, direct doesn’t always mean the most comfortable journey and you can’t fly direct to some cities. If flying via Europe gives a business class flat-bed for a night flight for the same price as an economy seat, surely it’s a no brainer?

Regional airports have improved beyond recognition in the last ten years, and are relatively calm compared to the sometimes overwhelming bustle of Heathrow. But they still don’t have the full range of destinations that the hub airports offer, and non-direct long-haul is often the best option. For businesses located more than a couple of hours from London it makes sense to start the journey at the nearest regional airport with transfer at a European hub for the long-haul sector, rather than taking the unpredictable overland journey or domestic flight to Heathrow or Gatwick.

Price is a big factor, especially for SMEs with tight travel budgets but more leeway for creative route planning. Direct long-haul flights by legacy carriers, with the flexibility the business traveller needs, can be staggeringly expensive. With a well-planned itinerary it’s very possible to plan the journey via a European hub, in business class, for a similar price to a direct economy flight. Complex multi-destination itineraries may also benefit from the whole journey being ticketed using alliance carriers, with connections in tune with partner airlines.

Of course buyers and travellers will be asking: “What about the extra time it takes?” If a company is located well outside London, once the journey to Heathrow plus the extra time required at a major hub airport for queuing is factored in, it should be possible to plan an itinerary that takes no extra time using a regional airport. If using Heathrow or Gatwick, the typical connecting time at a European hub, for well-planned journeys, is usually around two hours – that can be weighed up against the benefits of cost saving and comfort.

Colin Stewart is Air Europa’s UK & Ireland director. He was recently appointed chairman of LATA (Latin American Travel Association) and

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